Riding in smoke, AQI limits

Living in North Idaho, we have had heavy smoke from forest fires for weeks. While in previous years, the smoke would stay for a couple of days but eventually blow away. So I have avoided doing big rides or hard workouts outside for the past couple weeks, but it looks like the fires will be here for a while. So I have been getting out when the AQI is below 100, and it seems fine.

Am I doing damage to my lungs riding long or hard in AQI 100-150? Should it be avoided completely?

I also realize that I am privileged and get to ride in fresh air most of the year. So how do others that live in cities or smoggy places deal with bad air quality?

P.S.
I don’t have AC for indoor training, so I am just blowing smoky air into my house if I decide to ride the trainer.

100 was about my limit for outdoor riding last summer, but I’m also blessed enough to have AC that at least enables indoor riding relatively safely.

Copy & pasting from some threads last year:

September 2020 I did some sprint work in the (well sealed) garage with AQI outside in 150-200 range. After Thursday’s workout my mouth tasted like cigarettes for days, coughing, sore throat, lungs rattling a bit. Went to the doctor and pulled the plug on working out until the air quality improves.

The 2018 Camp Fire gave us enough 300-500 AQI days that you get a feeling for truly awful air quality. You don’t want PM2.5 getting lodged into your lungs and possibly losing lung capacity. I’d suggest using the AirNow website to view actual AQI because some apps are over reporting.

Trial and error my threshold for riding outside is 50 AQI when PM2.5 is the primary pollutant. Others have higher limits. Know enough people down here that had stop cycling for a week or two after riding outside above AQI 100 that I don’t think it’s worth taking the risk.

A lot of info out there, here is one overview https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/health-and-environmental-effects-particulate-matter-pm

Be safe and take care of yourself!!!

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Get some quality HEPA filters. They really do clean up your indoor air.

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50 is also our personal limit, living here on the Front Range in Northern Colorado. Had a fire nearby last year and there were spans of days that we didn’t even go outside period, much less for exercise. Sucked. Currently hanging on a 100 AQI and hoping that somehow goes away by Saturday so we can get outside. We have two race weekends coming up and I don’t see any real air pollution relief.

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You can also get a room air conditioner that pulls sources the cold evaporator air from the room and discharges the hot condenser air outside through a vent at the window. In theory that won’t bring in dirty air, but in reality you won’t get a perfect seal and it lowers air pressure in your house, which will pull in outside air somewhere.

But if you pair it with an air purifier, you will have relatively cool and clean air.

For air purifiers, I can highly recommend the Coway AP-1512HH and the Coway Airmega 200m (they’re the same model with a different case). I have 3 of them. They are great for my allergies, have tested as one of the best air purifiers (by The Wire Cutter) and are super quite on the lower settings. So around and you can often find it for ~$150.

Coway AP-1512HH Mighty Air Purifier with True HEPA and Eco Mode https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B00BTKAPUU/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_glt_fabc_66SJEGS757HZ1HEDMW4J

There’s also the cheap option of taping a MERV 12 furnace filter to a box fan.

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Am I the only one that gets legitimately frustrated when I see people out running and writing in these sorts of conditions? I see people posting for our rides on Strava with pictures of their bikes in the Sun and everything looks Orange from smoke and pollution. I don’t know what it is about it, but for some reason it just gets under my skin to see it LOL.


I’m over in Missoula, usually we get the smoke in September and that’s just how it is until the snow flies, so I was pretty bummed when it started in July. I have sort of arbitrarily decided that once it hits 100 I’m staying in, I have air conditioning and a smart trainer so it seems not worth the risk. There was one day a couple weeks ago where it got below 100, I went out to ride and could still taste it.

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Yeah, to an extent I understand personal risk assessment (I’ll be going out tonight in less-than-ideal conditions simply because it’s the best day I’ve seen in months), but we had AQI’s of 400+ over the last week and there were dudes recording open water swims of all things, which blew my mind. Beyond the health impacts the visibility was nonexistent, and still a ton of boats on the lake (which is even more stupid IMO)

A few of them called me a wuss, to which I happily agreed.

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I have always had bad asthma and breathing issues. Only this year have I finally started seeing a pulmonologist and it’s done wonders. His reaction, more or less, to the question of whether or not I should ride when the air is bad was…insert your favorite hysterical laughing meme. And with covid still a thing, weakening my lungs for nothing sounds like a horrific idea.

image

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It’s prob totally fine. I imagine ‘x’ years ago before you could google air quality index, people never thought twice. If you actually taste and smell smoke, then that’s prob a good reason to not go. Otherwise, go ride your bike!

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  • Maybe, but my eyes work pretty darn well. For more years than I’ve had AQI, I simply looked at mountains in the distance, or when it was really bad, the local hills in my area. I sure knew then as I still know now, that riding outside was not probably the best idea when smoke lead to obstruction or complete disappearance of those features. And when those were the case, I rode inside or skipped rides entirely.

  • Yes, it’s nice to have more quantitative info now, but it’s not like we were completely blind before.

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People didn’t think twice about a lot of things in the past and they used to die at younger ages.

People that live in these areas might as well invest in some AC and hepa air filters now because the seasonal fires and heatwaves aren’t going to let up.

I lived in Spokane two years ago and lost a full month of the summer riding due to smoke in the air.

Which is why it’s nice to have three metrics: eyes to see air, lungs and noses to sense the air, and aqi reports to quantify what the first two can’t discern.

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People that live in these areas might as well invest in some AC and hepa air filters now because the seasonal fire and heatwaves aren’t going to let up.

Sadly that’s how we are going to treat it now and in the future. Outdoor riding is going to be Mar-June then maybe late September- early November. Been going to the gym more so maybe I will just get JACKED!

I’m coming to the same conclusion. I was outside constantly in April-June, but I have been reverting to the trainer the past month due to the poor AQI. I have asthma so getting a lung full of smoke is not an option.

It’s not a bad idea to go back to the gym though, at least the one in my house. Get swole!

IIRC, when Kate Courtney posted something about this, (on instagram?) she said nothing “hard” with AQI >50 and nothing outside >100, was what she used.

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As someone who rides their bike as their main mode of transportation/commute sometimes you don’t have a lot of great choices, luckily where I’m at it hasn’t come this year yet, but wildfire smoke in the PNW is becoming a more regular occurrence. Take it slow, listen to your body. Also N95s are now available again, including 3m ones with the exhaust flap that aren’t too hard to breath in, or a full face respirator.

This gov source suggests AQI <150 is fine for individuals without respiratory sensitivities. Seems like you guys seem to be quite risk averse or have asthma/ other conditions, no?

https://www.airnow.gov/aqi/aqi-basics/

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